How to play the Bass Note

There are 2 highly important, vital elements that every Djembe note has in common -
1) The fingers are ALWAYS EXTENDED - Never Bent!
2) The *MCP KNUCKLE makes contact within EVERY NOTE.
(*That’s the big knuckle that connects your fingers to your hand)


THE BASS NOTE - The Whole Flat of the Hand
The Center of the Palm is the stretch point -the fingers are open

  • The whole flat of the hand is making contact with the drum skin.
  • The Elbow is the only moving or bending part as it moves the forearm, wrist, hand and fingers up and down.
  • The Palm is flexed or stretched to the point where everything is on an even plane from the wrist to the fingertips.
  • The wrist is flat -it does not bend!
  • The fingers are straight - they do not bend!
  • The bottom of the drum must be open.
- If sitting it must be held at an angle facing away from the drummer (If standing this is not an issue.)

“The Day a Bass Note Saved My Life”
The sound that the bass note produces on the djembe drum is the reason most, if not all of us westerners, are drawn to it. The deep, low, pitch can cause us humans to relax and feel grounded - even more connected to the earth.

How the heck do you hold this thing?
Whether one is sitting or standing to play, the drum fits into the middle of the body. It sits evenly between the left and right legs for an even distribution of the sound - vibration - throughout the body. I have found that sitting to play results in a more intense vibratory experience as the knees and inner thighs are touching or hugging each side of the wooden drum ‘shell”. The “shell’ is a tree trunk that’s been hollowed and reshaped. The bass note vibrates the entire “shell” and ultimately sends the sound through the narrow “stem” and out the bottom of the drum. This makes the shell, the trunk, the tree, vibrate the entire lower half of the body upon playing a bass note. One can even say the legs are “hugging” the tree and receiving a “vibrational” massage.

This is the reason why, when one is sitting in a chair, the drum is leaned away from the drummer so the bottom of the “stem’ is open to let that bass note out into the air. How much of an opening depends on the surface.

If anything is blocking the opening at the bottom the bass note will not make a pleasant sound. It will sound like a dull, lifeless thud…A floor made of concrete, wood, asphalt, packed dirt, etc. is preferred over a carpet, especially a thick pile one.
A reflective surface is needed to create the desired sound.

How does your hand make the bass note?
When properly executed, the bass frequency can stimulate all your organs and cells in a most positive way.

The bass sound is produced with the entire flat of the hand. The palm, the whole length of the fingers, and the thumbs are extended as they make contact with and bounce off the middle of the skin.

I say”extended” in that the fingers are not bent at all - but they are straight and slightly apart. I like to describe it as ‘how your hand naturally lands” on the skin or any flat surface. In a hyper extension they would remind me of webbed feet - duck feet!
The wrist does not bend either. The arms should feel almost robotic. The wrist will try to bend just to help out but what happens is you produce a “clicky” sound. This is not a true bass tone. The center of the palm must make total contact along with the fingers and thumbs.

The elbow is what I call ‘the moving part’ or the ‘hinge’. It is picking the forearm, hand and wrist up and down causing a bouncing motion. EVERYTHING IS EXTENDED EXCEPT FOR THE ELBOW. Again - the wrist is firm and fingers and thumbs are flat, extended and open.

One of the first images I was taught is that your hand is like a small child bouncing on a trampoline. Imagine the child is falling into the trampoline face first and their whole body is

spread-eagled. Now imagine your palm, fingers, and thumbs are that small child and your elbow keeps bouncing on and off the trampoline.

Bouncy, Bouncy, Bouncy….
The bass note can also be described as “pulling the sound out of the drum”. It is an upward motion that creates the true sound of the djembe. If you leave your hand on the drum for any longer than a split second it produces a muted or muffled sound. That’s not what we’re looking for. I’m not going to say that it’s wrong or bad or that it’s not a bass note of some sort - it’s just not the desired sound.
When you bounce off the skin immediately it releases a full bodied sound that fills a room or a forest.
It can rattle your root chakras.

It will settle your cells and relax your organs.
It can produce endorphins.
It will make you smile.
I can only speak from my own experiences. I’m not a doctor - I’m a drummer - dang it!

Zoom Room Drummers playing bass technique


"Hand Yoga of Djembe Drumming"" - w/Gregg Hansen

These exercises can improve your Djembe drumming in less than two minutes a day - you don't even need a drum - Yet!....

The “Bass” Hand


Learn how to isolate the three parts of your hand that make the three notes on a Djembe Drum in this FREE four-week course so named the "Hand Yoga of Djembe Drumming

The Djembe Drum is by far the most popular hand drum no matter what kind of drumming you like to do: Drum Circle, Trance, Meditational, Ensemble or Traditional West African. Being able to play all three notes makes everything more fun. And it's fun we're after, right?

This is a FREE four-week course of two-minute exercises to be practiced three times a day for a week. Anyone, anywhere and anytime can do these exercises to isolate the three parts of the hand for Djembe Drumming. Stretching joints and muscles as in yoga, is known to be vital in the maintenance of a healthy, pliable body. However, stretching the hands and fingers are so often overlooked. Your hands and fingers will love you for it whether you play a hand drum or not.

Making good notes on a Djembe Drum - Bass, Tone and Slap - is not a miracle or magic. It's muscle memory and mindfulness along with the correct information.

This FREE four-week-course will get you started. Once you've connected with the three areas of expansion/extension then the application on the drum can truly begin.

PRESCRIPTION: include this simple two-minute exercise in your life at least three times a day no matter where you are. You can do it while watching TV, waiting in line, eating, cooking, taking a walk, even soaking in the hot tub. It's good for you!

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